by Jessica Mulligan
By the time you read this, Ill be in Cannes, France, chairing a panel at Milia, the digital entertainment conference. The panel is titled The Community Management Minefield so, just to be careful, I went out and had Kevlar underwear constructed. Hey, its a lot more comfortable than those Torquemada lace bras that Victorias Secret makes for men to drool over and women to suffer in. On the panel with me will be Richard Bartle, co-creator of the first MUD, Lizzie Deighton, UO Community Manager for Europe and Vincent Scheurer, a Solicitor from England specializing in such matters. If by chance youre attending, stop in and watch the action.
Preparing for the conference is taking an inordinate amount of time, so I thought Id touch on several subjects briefly.
No sooner do I write a column about the history and generations of online games than a friend puts me in contact with a man making a documentary about them. Director Tracy Spaight and his experienced crew have a Web site up at http://www.mmorpg-film.org. There is some good information about what director Spaight wants to accomplish (the mans a gamer, God help him), one player profile with more coming (they just finished filming at the UO World Faire in Austin and the Everquest meet in Dallas) and the requisite forums and information on how you can contribute and be a part of the process.
This looks fascinating; Spaight is not just talking to the standard slate of game designers, developers and academics that seem to be available whenever a camera is around, but delving deeper by talking to and filming players in their natural environment, at conventions and elsewhere to find out their motivations for playing. Hes looking at their lives, not just their hobby, and that is something I think we can all relate to.
And, by the way, if you cant contribute any other way, you can help with funding. Spaight has a matching-funds grant from the Texas Council from the Humanities. For every $2 donated, the project receives $1 from the Council. If you can spare a couple bucks in these tough times, you might consider contributing to history.
It was reported on January 24 that Brian Fargo, founder and CEO of Interplay Productions, had left the company. There had been reports of tension between Fargo and Titus, the French company that acquired a controlling interest in Interplay last August. On the same day, it was announced that Bioware and Interplay had settled their suit over Biowares NeverWinter Nights. Infogrames, which bought Hasbro Interactive and licensed the D&D rights for 15 years, will publish the game, subject to Interplays pre-existing license. There is no coincidence here, I think, especially if this report by Gamers.com is true.
Ive known Brian since 1993, when we first pitched Paramount together to get the online rights to Star Trek. Since that time, Ive heard from his supporters and detractors, both sides of which are vocal and insistent. It seems Brian is destined to be one of those people with no middle ground; most people seem to either love or dislike him.
Think what you will of him, one thing cant be ignored; hes one of the people who made the computer and video game industry possible. He started in 1983 as a teenager, when we were all still trying to figure out just what a PC game was. Part of his legend at Interplay is that he peddled his own Apple games from door to door while still in high school. I can believe it; the man is a mover.
Under his guidance, Interplay turned out some of the most beloved games in the industry. Remember The Bards Tale series? Who could forget the highly imaginative and humorous BattleChess? And if you dont remember the 1987 classic Wasteland, you are no true gamer. It was the best computer RPG ever developed, the excellent Ultima series notwithstanding. There are Commodore 64 and Apple II emulators all over the Net; get one, get the Wasteland disc image from Interplay and play this game. The graphics suck by todays standards, but the gameplay, maps and moral dilemmas designed by Fargo, Mike Stackpole, Ken St. Andre, Alan Pavlish and Liz Danforth are fiendishly clever, absorbing and still compelling fifteen years later (hint: be very careful how you handle the whole Rex the dog situation).
That was the 1980s; the 1990s saw Interplay publish the Star Trek old series games (and the voice acting by the original cast on Judgment Rights, which I supervised, still gives me chills n thrills. Leonard Nimoy is a helluva actor and Jimmy Doohan is one of the funniest people on the face of the Earth), Descent, Tim Cains Wasteland reprise, Fallout and Biowares Baldurs Gate series. Interplay was also the first company to put a game on CD-ROM and sell it. Sure, it was the evergreen BattleChess, but it was still taking a chance in the early 1990s.
All in all, quite a few accomplishments to be proud of, and Im sorry to see Brian leave the company he founded and loves under a bit of a cloud. There is no telling what he will do now; hes always loved films and story-telling as well as games, and he lives in Orange County, an hours drive from Hollywood, so who knows? Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, well see a film with credit line, "Directed by Brian Fargo."
On January 29, Mythic Entertainment had a problem patching their Dark Age of Camelot servers. They had to patch three times to get rid of a couple problems that cropped up. Happens all the time in this industry.
What doesnt happen all the time was how Mythic reacted to it. Instead of doing what everyone else does, which is to basically treat the customer base like they are a bunch of whiney babies and tell them to just suck it up and deal (when they say anything at all other than "Oops, sorry"), they posted this:
Hi again, y'all. We have a small crash bug that occurs under rare circumstances that we've got to fix. We are not taking all the servers down at once; instead, we're taking them down a few at a time, making the fix, and bringing them back up before we take the next few down.
As our way of saying "Doh, our bad, sorry we had to take it down three times today," every character who logs in after the patch will receive roughly the following: Level one characters will see no benefit (since this morning's Musical Servers didn't impact them), levels 2-10 are getting about a bubble of experience, and experience roughly equivalent to twenty yellow solo kills to all other characters. (Edited at 11:45 AM)
This is exactly the way it should be done. Not just the process of rotating the server fixes, so all your customers arent aced out of playing at once, but treating the customers like they, you know, pay the bills and deserve to be treated as paying customers when you make a boo-boo. I cant think of a single instance of another major MMORPG that has even come close to this kind of Thank You to their players for something as simply rectified. Heck, Ive had characters time-warped so badly I some games that I lost several days of play-time with nary an apology.
It makes good business sense, too; can you just imagine the player loyalty this will instill?
Well done, Mythic. Now, the rest of you guys; please go to the Mythic Academy of Live Team Operations and get certified. Thank you.
NCSofts Lineage: the Bloodpledge will release a Macintosh client in February. The game was shown at Januarys MacWorld in San Francisco and walked away with one of fourteen Best of Show awards.
This is pretty smart of NCSoft. The Mac community may be small these days (less than 5% of the total market, according to some analysts), but they are fanatical about supporting the platform. The number of Mac MMORPG players may be small, but theyll be loyal to a fault to an online game they decide to stick with, and longevity is the name of the game in the industry. Remember, any subscriber who stays with you a year is paying the equivalent of three or four boxed games, and you dont have to go to the expense of shipping three or four boxes or wait ninety days to get your money from the distributor.
NCSoft also announced a deal with Sony Online/Verant to take EverQuest into the Korean and general Asian markets. Considering that Korea, Japan, Taiwan, et al, are about 30-40% of the worldwide market right now, this can only be a good thing for both parties.
It is kind of a strange match; it isnt often that direct competitors team up this way. Each party is playing to their strength, however, EverQuest with their gorgeous 3D product which is so different from the standard isolinear product most often seen in Korea, NCSoft with their current leading position in the Korean/Asian market. The deal actually makes a good bit of sense for both of them.
EverQuest also plays into the unique Asian gaming style, which is generally more achievement and PvP-oriented than the US and Europe. The EQ PvP server set should do well in that market, especially if they add more complete and full-featured Guild support.
Of course, one has to wonder if this will spark real-world EQ Guild conflicts on the streets of Seoul, as Lineage has done on occasion. Or even inter-game conflict, with Lineage BloodPledges duking it out with EQ Guilds. I can see it now:
"Our game play is stronger than yours!"
"Ha! Our Ranger Master will crush you in 3D!"
"Hey, thats my seat!"
"Go tell it in San Diego, worm!"
"Bloodpledge, to me!"